As a yoga teacher and chef, I find it interesting how much time people invest in coming to class and going to the gym in an effort to look good, yet eating is an afterthought or a massive source of anxiety.
It’s like we’ve forgotten that what we put in our body directly affects our output, our attitude, and our overall state of wellbeing.
When we’re seeking to find balance between mind, body and spirit, it’s important to make sure that not only are we putting in the right fuel for our physical wellbeing, but we’re giving our brain a good mood boost and soothing our soul, too.
The stomach is sometimes referred to as the "second brain," because there is such a strong connection between our state of mind, our emotions and our bellies. It’s not unusual for us to reach for something sweet when we feel upset or for our appetite to be affected when we’re stressed.
This is because the stomach is lined with a densely-packed network of neurons, which are connected to your body's central nervous system. Plus, science has shown us how the food we choose can trigger chemical and physiological changes in the brain and alter perceptions, states of consciousness and behavior.
So what does a soul-satisfying, healthy, good-mood menu look like?
Simple! Eat more of the feel-good foods that increase serotonin, known as the "happiness" hormone found in carbohydrates and proteins, which also help to regulate energy production and blood sugar. In addition, ensure you get an adequate supply of micronutrients such as Omega 3 fatty acids, magnesium, iron and all the B vitamins. Here’s how to eat yourself happy.
1. Increase your serotonin supply.
Choose small portions of complex carbs and pure sources of protein, such as whole grains, quinoa, potatoes, white fish, seafood, lean white meat, bananas, or spinach and eggs to promote a clarity and calm.
Serotonin will help regulate sleep, appetite, and mood. In Ayurveda, these foods are known as "sweet" tastes, which are praised for pacifying the nervous system and for their grounding energies.
2. Eat chocolate.
Chocolate has a strong power to put you in a better mood by reducing tension. Good quality products (high in cocoa, low in fat and sugars) can be consumed in moderation, free of guilt.
3. Enjoy a little caffeine, if it doesn’t give you the jitters.
Some people tolerate caffeine better than others and it can be beneficial for folks who suffer from lethargy and sluggishness, since it can have an uplifting effect. However, many find it over-stimulating, resulting in an increase in anxiety and adrenal fatigue. So, try cutting down to one cup of really good quality coffee or tea per day and keep a close eye on how your body responds. If it doesn’t do you any good, ditch it.
4. Opt for Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids.
Known as the good fats, we need both Omega 3 & 6 for many functions including building cells to maintain healthy nerve and brain function. Omega 3s are found in fatty fish like salmon or mackerel and walnuts and flaxseeds. Omega 6s are found in plant oils such as corn, soy, and sunflower, as well as nuts and seeds. We need to ensure we include them in our diet since our body doesn’t produce them on its own.
5. Make friends with micronutrients.
Magnesium, folic acid, B vitamins and iron all help to prevent fatigue and promote vitality. These are predominately found in dark leafy greens, good quality meat and eggs, and dried and whole fruits. It’s really good practice to fill half your plate with green stuff.
6. Tune in to your tummy.
Instead of eating what you think you "should" eat, eat what you need. Tune in to what your tummy is telling you to eat. If that's something salty or sweet or starchy, listen. The risk when we override this and compromise is that we end up over-compensating with something else and over eating.
7. Turn off the TV.
Digestion begins with your sight and smell, so take time to indulge your senses and sit somewhere quiet while you eat, giving your food your full attention. Avoid other situations that can overwhelm you, too, like over crowded spaces or the office.
8. Prepare food with love and let go of the guilt.
In the 70’s Dr. Emoto found that water cells can be influenced by emotion, so create food from a place of compassion with emphasis on nourishment and satisfying your soul. Don’t let negative emotions like shame or guilt or judgement cloud your consumption. Food is life! Express gratitude for what’s on your plate.